Here is a critical review of Marc Lynch's 2011 essay, 'After Egypt: The limits and promise of online challenges to the Authoritarian Arab state'. It explores the extent to which different fashions of media have challenged the ability for Arab States to enforce authoritarian regimes, as well as speculating the significance that such technological vehicles, for example Facebook and Al-Jazeera, will hold in the future of certain Middle-Eastern nations.
The study was written at a time in which technological mediums of communication, particularly forms of social media, were beginning to become immensely prominent in the global arena - between 2010 and 2011, Facebook witnessed a 237 million spike in their number of users, reaching an overall total of 845m (Sedghi, 2014). The potential impact on the global arena, of such a drastic increase in the utilisation of such forums, was realised by Lynch, who paid particular attention to events such as the 'Facebook-planned protest' in Egypt, on 25th January 2011 (Lynch, 2011).
Such examples compound to highlight the relevance, and undeniable importance of Lynch's essay - as he considered the influence that technological mediums, such as Facebook, could have upon political establishments, people realised that there was now a genuine potential for media to become a vehicle that possessed the ability to enact political change, both in favour of, and against, citizens of the state.
Strengths of Essay
The first thing I would commend Lynch for, is the manner in which his essay is structured. It follows a basic arrangement, which allows the reader to clearly identify the Author's key arguments. In particular, Lynch asks the reader to consider 'four distinct ways' by which media can be seen as challenging to the Arab state - he describes these as the '4 pathways to change'. This argument creates a broad axis for one to consider the manner in which media can influence politics, and within Lynch's presentation of the mentioned "pathways", three notable strengths can be found.
The first of these three strengths, is Lynch's ability to make competent political forecasts. Given that his essay was published in 2011, some of the Lynch's observations remarkably foreshadow media's relation to Politics in modern-day society. One thing which is particularly notable, is the Author's comments on how devices such as hashtags and retweets are ineffective of driving change as they are merely a tool for a leaderless, unstructured body, united on shared-opinion (Lynch, 2011). One example which reinforces this notion was the third most tweeted activism hashtag of 2017: '#impeachtrump' (Machin, 2017) - this has done little to create any credible traction on such a goal. Moreover, he raises salient questions in the conclusion of his essay, such as whether regimes will be able to cope with increased access amongst citizens to online forms of media, or whether they can adapt accordingly to the pressures placed upon them (Lynch, 2011) - such examples open a broader consideration of what the future holds for the Arab state, as opposed to a simple commentary on events which were occuring at the time of writing.
Evidence, when used:
When included, Lynch provides relevant statistics and facts to support his arguments, which compound to strengthen his essay as a whole. The best example of this is when he speaks of the ability for the Arab-Youth to access 'anonymizing software to evade censorship', an insightful point, providing the reader with intricate (and evidently well-researched) detail, relating to how citizens in Arab states are able to access and utilise forms of media to help mobilise their respective political movements.
Consideration of both sides:
Finally, Lynch does not only consider how citizens living within Authoritarian states may benefit from access to various technological mediums, but he also takes into account how the state may benefit from a lack of censorship - this includes an allowance for citizens to utilise social media, so it is easier for the state to identify adversaries. By doing this, Lynch makes the reader consider the relationship between media and politics, from a broader perspective, not solely through the lens of the arguably oppressed citizens.
Weaknesses of Essay
Although generally strong, it would be incorrect not to note certain flaws within Lynch's essay - in particular, there are two key ones.
Firstly, Lynch is culprit to making statements which are generalised, and undermine opening up a consideration of future predictions. One example of this, is the author's discrediting of social media platforms' ability to organise political protests: 'Twitter doesn’t cause revolutions but revolutions are tweeted' (Lynch, 2011). Lynch failed to consider that mediums such as Twitter could actually enhance political protest, and even revolution, as was witnessed in the 2013 Euromaidan protest.
There is a strong argument for a correlation between growing online support for the rebel cause (on Twitter at the time of the protests), and an increased mobilisation of physical rebel support - 'During Euromaidan protests, Ukrainians posted 130,000 tweets daily on average, compared to 90,000 daily tweets in 2012' (Lokot, 2014). It is hard not to at least recognise and consider the notion that online mediums such as Twitter, played a role in intensifying pressure on the then Ukrainian regime's decision to increase diplomatic ties with Russia in favour of the EU. Either way, this is a good example of a generalised statement which hinders Lynch's essay, by limiting a consideration of the role which media may possibly have on future eventualities.
Lack of statistics:
The second key weakness of Lynch's essay, is the inconsistent inclusion of statistics and evidence to support his claims. This was evident during his discussion of how the majority of citizens which gathered in Tahir square during the 2011 Egypt protests were apparently 'young, secular, and unrepresentative of broader population' (Lynch, 2011). However, this claim is made without factual support, subsequently discounting a true consideration of wider demographics.
Conclusion/answers to be drawn from essay
Generally, Lynch produces a strong essay, containing some compelling arguments, with intriguing evidence, compounding to support the decision made by APSA to publish his study. He made evident that media could have a genuine impact upon politics, subsequently raising salient points as to the potential for such vehicles to mobilise political change in a way that a decade prior would have been considered unimaginable. Although his essay does contain some weaknesses, such as an inconsistent inclusion of evidence to support arguments, these are minor flaws to what is generally a well-balanced, and insightful piece of writing, which was published at a highly relevant time, as we begun to witness the potential impact which increasingly sophisticated media could have upon political structures.
About the Author: Rory Bell is in his first year at Queen's University Belfast - 2017 - studying Politics and Conflict Studies.